WTF is witching hour? Why your newborn is fussy at night

Everyone jokes about the poonamis, tells you about the spit-ups and gleefully mentions the constant lack of sleep. But before you become a parent, nobody warns you about the darkest time of day for anyone with a baby: witching hour.

So, what is the witching hour?

You might be used to having a fussy baby at night, but the witching hour takes it to another level entirely. One afternoon your newborn baby begins to fuss for absolutely no reason. You can rock ’em, change ’em, pat ’em, feed ’em, bath ’em and burp ’em to the tune of Rawhide, but no matter what you do, YOUR BABY JUST WON’T STOP CRYING. Welcome to witching hour. 

Although it can happen any time of day, and go for much longer than the advertised 60 minutes, witching hour typically kicks in during the mid to late afternoon. But don’t despair. Witching hour is a completely normal (albeit unpleasant) phenomenon, so be reassured that you’re not doing anything wrong.

Why does witching hour happen?

The fact is: babies cry. A lot. It is, after all, their only way to communicate at this stage. On average, they’ll cry for about three hours a day, and when it comes to screaming, really hit their stride between 6-8 weeks of age, generally coinciding with the period where you’ve eaten the last of the frozen casseroles dropped over by family, and your partner has run out of goodwill with their boss. 

There are plenty of theories out there as to why this fussiness builds to such a crescendo at witching hour. In the past, it was attributed to appetite or growth spurts, but both ideas were debunked. These days, some people believe it’s the only way newborns can release excess energy. Others speculate it happens when a mom’s milk supply is lower. Another theory focuses on the environment, with babies becoming agitated when energy in the house is dialled up, as people arrive home, older kids watch TV, dinner is cooked, etc. 

How to get through witching hour

Annoyingly, when it comes to witching hour there is no easy fix. What works one day might not work the next, and there’s no special tactical maneuver or overpriced product that can fix the problem.

Try to treat it as a process of elimination: make sure your babe is burped, changed, fed, comfortable and hydrated, and that there is no underlying cause to their discomfort, like a scratchy tag on clothes or socks that are too tight.

Once you’ve done that, throw everything at it and see what works. You can try swaddling, walking your baby in the stroller, taking a car ride, giving them a bath, rocking them, popping in a pacifier, letting them cluster feed, playing some music, putting on a broadway performance or handing the baby to someone else, to change things up.

Thankfully, even though science can’t explain it, any mama who’s been through it will reassure you: the witching hour doesn’t last forever. In fact, it starts to wind down from about 12 weeks, tapering off when kids are around five months old.

Until then, You’ve just got to grit your teeth and make it through.

When it doesn’t feel right

While the witching hour is a normal phenomenon, if you have a fussy baby it’s also important to watch out for underlying medical reasons like colic or acid reflux. Trust your instincts: if you’re worried something isn’t right, be sure to talk with your local health service or doctor to rule out any underlying medical issues.

How to survive witching hour yourself

Remember: it’s not all about your little one. If you’re struggling with all the crying, you’re not alone, and it’s completely normal. There’s nothing easy about listening to a baby in distress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a breather or get some fresh air, pop your baby down in a safe spot such as their crib, and take five in another room.

It’s really important to also keep an eye out for the baby blues. Being a mom is hard and postpartum depression is a common experience. If you think you might be experiencing PPD, see your doctor for help. 

Last of all, hang in there: just like the impractical newborn clothes your mother-in-law gave you, your kiddo will eventually outgrow the witching hour.

Read next: How to soothe acid baby reflux: everything you need to know

Raising Children Network, Crying: babies

Australian Breastfeeding Association, Cluster feeding and fussy babies

Australian Breastfeeding Association, Fussy periods

Mumli, How to soothe baby acid reflux: everything you need to know

Mumli, What to do if you think you have postnatal depression

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